4 May 2011
Secretary-General
SG/SM/13540
OBV/989
PI/1982

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at World Press Freedom Day Event, Stresses Obligation

 

of States to Uphold Freedom of Expression, Information, Association

 


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at World Press Freedom Day observance in New York, 4 May:


It is a great pleasure for me to join you for this annual observance.  I attach the highest importance to press freedom and to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of all people to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.


When Governments repress their people, press freedom is among the most powerful vehicles for exposing misdeeds.  When people face discrimination, access to media can give them voice.  And in an era of pressing global challenges, the free exchange of information and ideas through the media can connect people and countries in networks of common cause.


On this year’s observance, we recall the roots of World Press Freedom Day.  A generation ago, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of media restrictions in Eastern Europe, a group of courageous African journalists sought similar advances on their continent.  Their aspirations found wide resonance.  They worked with UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] to organize the 1991 seminar in Namibia that produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on free and independent media.  The Declaration inspired the UN General Assembly, two years later, to establish this observance.


Today, it is the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East mobilizing for their democratic rights and freedoms.  And they are doing so with a heavy reliance on new media.  The Internet, social media and blog posts — these are among the tools being used so creatively, especially by the vanguard of young people, to help spur change in their societies.  And it is working, albeit not without tragic violence at the hands of regimes that fear both the media and the demands they have made possible.


The theme of this year’s observance, “New Frontiers, New Barriers”, highlights this dramatically changed global media landscape.  New media and tools such as cell phones continue to empower individuals and enrich news-gathering.  Once largely hidden workings of Government, business and industry are seeing the light of day.


More than 70 countries have enacted laws to protect the right of citizens to various kinds of information — on parliamentary and individual proceedings, to constitutional decisions and the like.  We are working for the day when Governments can no longer shield themselves from full and proper scrutiny.


Yet alongside these benefits stand old challenges.  We still see the media used to disseminate hatred and incite violence, including, at times, broadcasters and newspapers of States themselves.  New media have also had unintended consequences.  States have found them very handy as tools of cyber-surveillance.  The very public nature of the new media means that authorities can easily monitor what is being said and who is saying it.  Some Governments have simply extended to the Internet the censorship they already practice in traditional media.


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least six journalists who worked primarily online were killed in 2010.  And in 2008, for the first time, more “online reporters”, were in jail than those working in traditional media.  On World Press Freedom Day, we remember the journalists, editors and other media professionals who have been killed for their reporting.


The impunity that often follows such murders suggests a disturbing lack of official concern for the protection of journalists, and contempt for the vital role they play.  Many other journalists languish in jail simply for doing their jobs.  On this Day, we call for justice — and freedom for those still detained.  We pledge to bridge the digital divide, so that all people can benefit from access to new media and communication technologies.


The rights to freedom of expression, information and association are not abstract principles; they are rights that States have an obligation to fulfil.  I highlight these rights wherever I travel, most recently and especially in the States whose people are demanding change.  And I will continue, publicly and privately, to work to ensure the freedom and safety of journalists.


I look forward to working together to uphold these bedrock principles of democracy, development and peace.


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For information media • not an official record